Using Apple Watch as a PhD student

I've been using an Apple Watch for some time now as a researcher of social science. While it's not yet a core research tool, it does have some benefits that can improve several areas of scientific productivity. And when it comes to notifications, there's really nothing like it.

To work well, you do need to take some time to adjust notifications on Apple Watch (e.g. turn off emails notifications that are not time sensitive and turn on calendar reminders that are). Then, when tuned just right, Apple Watch can really turn into a productivity machine.๏ธ

Here's a list of my research-related workflows that include Apple Watch:

๐Ÿ“† Meeting Reminders

Several times, Apple Watch has saved me by reminding me of an upcoming meeting. While I remember the meetings that I've set up myself, I tend to forget ย general meetings, such as faculty seminars. Here, Apple Watch reminders are better than iPhone. For some reason, I never really take to heart reminders on iPhone. The wrist seems a better place for time-sensitive information. Watch-makers have known that ever since the wristwatch replaced the pocket watch.

๐Ÿ˜ด Sleep Coaching

I wake at 6 am and write for a couple of hours before doing anything else. I find it's the best time for me to write. And to achieve that, I need to go to sleep at a reasonable hour. Apple has taken the opposite approach to sleep than most wearable companies: Apple Watch is really more about preparing you for sleep than about tracking sleep patterns. I never got the idea of recieving an analysis of my sleep pattern the next day โ€” what can I use that for? But notifying me about winding down for sleep, that is useful for me.

๐Ÿšถโ€โ™‚๏ธExercise Reminders and Motivation

Working from home, pandemic and all, has made my (almost) daily walk or bike ride even more important. I rely heavily on Apple Watch for reminding me and the Watchโ€™s fitness circles to motivate a brisker walk.

๐Ÿ’ก Voice Capturing of Ideas

Siri is far from perfect, but it works fine for capturing the occasional idea to Apple Reminders, thereby getting it off my mind. I've set up Reminders to send all input to my favourite productivity app OmniFocus automatically, so I can review them on my computer.

๐Ÿ’ป Unlocking MacBook

When your primary work tool is a Mac it really adds up not having to unlock with password or fingerprint every time you open the computer. It opens automatically when you are wearing the watch. Perhaps a luxury, but man it's nice.

๐Ÿ“ž Taking Calls Without Distractions

When I write, my phone lies front facing down to not get disturbed. Sometimes however, I need to take a call and will inevitably get sucked in by new messages etc. When wearing AirPods, however, you can just pick up the phone from your Watch and avoid getting disturbed by other apps.

๐Ÿ’ฌ Glancing Messages

When working, seeing messages on your phone affords answering them or doing someting else on your phone, but with Apple Watch, it's more about taking notice and moving on if it's non-essential. This makes Apple Watch a better companion for messages during work, since you can more quickly decide if the message requires action or not.

๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ถ Reminders of Learning

Iโ€™m currently on a 116-day Arabic streak in Duolingo that I'm way too proud of. With just an iPhone, I only got to 25 days. Now, notifications from Duolingo are mirrored on Apple Watch and I somehow always remember to take 15 minutes to learn Arabic.

๐ŸŽ™ Field Recording Tool in a Pinch

In my research I do interviews and ethnography. I sometimes have to record interesting conversations on the spot or time specific work task. Apple Watch can quickly turn into an unobtrusive recording device and stopwatch. Itโ€™s not ideal, but itโ€™s quick. Remember to always ask research subjects permission to record, though.

โŒš๏ธ Professional Style

Althoug more on the subjective side, for people who love industrial minimalism watches tend to look similar. It's always the classic Skagen or Linjer look โ€” which is great and practical, but also very subtle. Apple Watch is appealing for its distinctive, yet minimalist, style. In short, I think you look like a pro.


For more knowledge of what the Apple Watch is actually for, I recommend this insightful blogpost. Also, this energetic guy has made like 20 videos about use-cases for Apple Watch. I learned from him, that Apple Watch use generally fall in the three categories: style, notifications and fitness. ย 

I've also written about all my favourite software for Mac here with many apps that sync to Apple Watch.

Malte Lebahn-Hadidi

Malte Lebahn-Hadidi